President Barack Obama will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when Netanyahu comes to Washington, D.C., in March to address a joint session of Congress at House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation.
Boehner’s invitation for Netanyahu to address Congress on Iran was described by experts as an “unprecedented” rebuke of Obama, but White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said that the president would not meet personally with Netanyahu because of the upcoming elections in Israel.
“As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” she said in an email to TPM. “Accordingly, the President will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress.”
The White House had previously called Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu, extended without any consultation with the Obama administration, a breach of diplomatic protocol. Boehner said that he didn’t think he was “poking anyone in the eye.”
Netanyahu will address Congress on March 3. The Israeli elections are March 17. Multiple experts noted to TPM on Wednesday that Netanyahu’s address to Congress could have political benefits to him at home as his party faces a tough campaign.
“The one thing that the opposition can play is, ‘Look, you’re screwing up relations with the United States.’ But if Netanyahu’s invited, then that’s moot,” Jonathan Rynhold, a politics professor at Bar-Illan University near Tel Aviv, said. “It’s a good time, it’s a good issue. It works politically because it’s founded on what these people actually think.”
Meehan added that Obama had made clear his intentions to veto any legislation passed by Congress that would place new sanctions on Iran because they would disrupt ongoing negotiations over its nuclear program. Netanyahu has at times been a forceful critic of the international negotiations.
“The President has been clear about his opposition to Congress passing new legislation on Iran that could undermine our negotiations and divide the international community,” she said. “The President has had many conversations with the Prime Minister on this matter, and I am sure they will continue to be in contact on this and other important matters.”